Exams and Public Paella

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This time I write to you not from an airport departures lounge, but from the middle of the first examination season here.  Revision time, like the departures lounge, is one of those points in life that no-one likes to be.  One is here, waiting for the next step (flight or exam) whilst trying to find something to do, whether that be ruffling through notes or browsing duty-free (despite being on an intra-EU flight).  I wouldn’t go so far as to say revision time is killing time (ha! I’d like to say it were), but it’s definitely a limbo of ill-ease.

Each time I find myself facing exams, I notice certain characteristics of my approach.  Procrastination has become refined; it’s no longer a random process of finding a distraction, I now mentally select what I will do to break the revision.  Here in Valencia, that involves going for a walk to the greengrocer’s (fruit is healthy! It’ll help in the long run…) or making tea in the microwave (kettles aren’t usual items here, at least no-one seems to have one) amongst other things.   Another choice of course is writing, which when you’ve been scribbling sums for hours is a blessed relief.

A lot of the exams I take involve a multiple-choice test as part, if not all of it.  These things I don’t like for many reasons, the main one being you have no way of proving you know something about a topic even if you can’t arrive at an exact answer.  They’re fine for testing “bullet point” facts, or perhaps even quick calculations of fundamental quantities, but to test and probe someone’s knowledge is impossible.  The ones I’ve faced here are negatively marked and designed to catch you out with real red-herring answers.  The idea is to pick the “most correct”, so several could be correct but not the whole picture.  Added to that there is the subtlety of language used.  My fault has always been not to read the question properly, so throw in language doubts, and there’s a real problem.

As a relief from exams, the other day with a couple of friends I took the Metro line I live on out of the city into the surrounding villages and countryside.  I’ve got to say it was a blessed relief to escape, if just for the afternoon!  To be walking along the sleepy streets, through the dead town square, reaching the edge of the village and continuing into the farmland and orange groves was just the thing I needed.  Picking the odd orange or clementine here and there from the trees or the ground and smelling the rich, sweet aroma of the fruit in the air definitely lifted the spirits.  Between mouthfuls and with hands sticky and dripping with the fruits’ juices, which, perhaps because of the situation, seemed much sweeter and tastier than usual, we were checking for an irate farmer with shotgun.

Whither will the road take us?

Whither will the road take us?

"Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St. Clements..."

"Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St. Clements..."

An odd encounter in the town at the end of the line, Rafelbunyol, were the smoking remnants of fires laid to cook paella, en-masse.  Not just one, but there were at least a couple of dozen smouldering heaps of ashes and bits of log all in a line, surrounded by discarded rice packets and bits of spilt paella.

Written by Benjamin

January 18th, 2009 at 6:50 pm

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